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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2016 (December 28-January 2)

I mentioned it in the last College Football thread that I would be splitting the Bowl Game Picks from the 2016 season over two threads and this is the second of those.

I only made six picks from the opening Bowl Games, but the quality of the games should increase in the second half of the post-season which includes the College Football Play Off Semi Finals on New Year's Eve.

Suffice to say that at this time of the season it can be difficult to watch all of the games being played with family time important, but I will try and put out all of the picks for the games I like and look for a better second half in Bowl season than the first half.

Wednesday 28th December
West Virginia Mountaineers vs Miami Hurricanes Pick: Both the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Miami Hurricanes should have plenty of motivation to end their 2016 season with the high of winning this Russell Athletic Bowl. Both teams have had strong seasons, but they are schools who are looking for the momentum to take them into the 2017 season when they will look to kick on and perhaps even challenge for the College Football Play Off spots.

The key for this game might be the battle at the line of scrimmage between the West Virginia Mountaineers Offensive Line and the Miami Hurricanes Defensive Line. While the Hurricanes have prided themselves on being stout against the run for much of the season, the Mountaineers success on that side of the ball has begun by being able to run the ball very effectively.

Justin Crawford has had 1000 rushing yards on the year and the Mountaineers have pumped out 6.4 yards per carry over their last three games. However the Hurricanes will feel they can slow down the Mountaineers on the ground and force Skyler Howard to try and beat them through the air in this one against a solid Secondary who are able to make some big plays.

There have been a few more holes in the Miami Secondary than earlier in the season over their last few games, but with time to get practice in before this Bowl Game, I would expect the Hurricanes to show improvement. The West Virginia Offense doesn't make a lot of mistakes through the air, but Miami can get some pressure on Howard and at least force incompletions and punts, while they also have been very strong in the Red Zone which could mean the Mountaineers settling for Field Goals instead of Touchdowns.

There are similarities with the way both Offenses operate as the Miami Hurricanes also have a 1000 yard rusher in Mark Walton and a smooth Quarter Back in Brad Kaaya. The difference in this game could be the fact that the line of scrimmage strengths are not the same as on the other side of the ball. The Miami Hurricanes should be able to establish the run in a far more effective manner than the West Virginia Mountaineers and that should open things up for Kaaya in a more convincing way than it could for Howard.

Kaaya should be able to exploit the West Virginia Secondary who have given up some big yards over their last few games although he will have to be careful when it comes to the Interceptions which the Mountaineers have thrived upon.

It should mean the Hurricanes are able to complete drives with Touchdowns more often than the West Virginia Mountaineers and that can give Miami the edge to cover this number. Brad Kaaya can out-duel Skyler Howard with more effective and consistent help from the running game and I like the Hurricanes to win this by around a Touchdown mark.

Indiana Hoosiers vs Utah Utes Pick: It wasn't the best end to the season for the Utah Utes who lost three of their last four games, but they still finished with a superior record to the Indiana Hoosiers. Since the end of the regular season, the Hoosiers have also seen Head Coach Kevin Wilson decide to resign despite taking Indiana to consecutive Bowl Games for the first time in twenty-five years.

Playing in Bowl Games has been important for Utah in recent years and they are 9-1 straight up in these games under Kyle Whittingham. The game is being played in San Francisco and Whittingham has made it clear that he believes his players love playing any of these Bowl Games which has helped them create such a strong record and the current group are 'excited' about heading to California to wrap the 2016 season.

They are facing an Indiana team who should be motivated despite losing Wilson between the end of the regular season and this Bowl Game. The Defensive unit have been much improved which has been a key reason the Indiana Hoosiers have managed to reach 6-6 and get back into the Bowl selections.

That unit is going to be tested by the Utes with the battle at the line of scrimmage likely to be very important to the outcome of this game. That is where the Utah Utes will be looking to run the ball, but the Indiana Defensive Line has stiffened in their most recent games and is likely to be a key component to determine the outcome of this one.

Joe Williams has had the best season from a Running Back in the history of the Utah Utes even though he missed four games, and is so important to becoming established to set up the rest of the Offense. It will ease the Indiana pass rush while also keeping the team in third and manageable spots from which Utah should have some success throwing the ball against this Secondary.

It is going to be much more difficult for the Indiana Hoosiers to run the ball and that is going to shift the pressure onto Richard Lagow to make the plays through the air. However Lagow has had success this season with over 3000 passing yards, although the 16 Interceptions have been an issue and could be a problem in this Bowl Game against a ball-hawking Secondary.

Stopping the run has also allowed the Utah Utes to tee off on the pass rush and they have a good match up to get to Lagow and force a couple of Sacks and rushed passes out of the Quarter Back. That could lead to extra possessions which allows Utah to wear down the Hoosiers Defensive Line and perhaps pull away for the cover in this Bowl Game.

The Utah Utes are 9-1 straight up in Bowl Games, but also 5-1 against the spread in the last six and I like them to cover in this one. The Indiana Hoosiers will give Utah some problems, especially if Lagow is at his best throwing the ball, but I can see a couple of turnovers helping the Utes come through with a win by around ten points.

Thursday 29th December
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs Colorado Buffaloes Pick: This has been a memorable season for the Colorado Buffaloes, but injuries have worn them down towards the end of the regular season. They maintained the performances through that hardship until the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game when being blown out by the Washington Huskies, but the Buffaloes have had time to get refocused on this Bowl Game.

The Valero Alamo Bowl is one that the Oklahoma State Cowboys are used to preparing for and they have to believe they can challenge their former Big 12 rivals despite also losing a big final game. That defeat to the Oklahoma Sooners meant losing out on the Big 12 title and potentially a bigger Bowl bid, but Mike Gundy will have his players well prepared for this one.

With the defeats in their final games, both the Cowboys and Buffaloes should be ready to end their 2016 season on a high and I think this is going to be a good game to watch. Oklahoma State have a powerful Offensive unit which will believe can get the better of the tough Colorado Defense which has been the foundation for their success this season.

There have just been some signs in the the last few weeks of the season that the Buffaloes Defensive Line have been worn down and that could be important in this game. Justice Hill has run the ball very well for the Cowboys which sets up their whole Offense and he will feel he can get himself established and help Oklahoma State set up in third and manageable spots through the evening.

The Colorado Secondary have been very good with some effective pass rush pressure up front helping their cause, but Mason Rudolph is an experienced Quarter Back for Oklahoma State to rely upon. If Hill is running the ball as I imagine he will, Rudolph should be able to make some big plays through the air to keep the chains moving.

Running the ball is going to be important for the Buffaloes too if only to protect Quarter Back Sefo Liufau who had been battling injury problems in the latter half of the regular season. Those injuries meant he was unable to complete the last three games for Colorado so they will lean on Philipp Lindsey to run the ball. However it has been tough sledging for the Buffaloes although they should find more room to impose themselves on the line of scrimmage in this one.

That should set up Liufau to have success throwing the ball against a Secondary that relies on being a 'bend, don't break' type of Defensive unit. The Cowboys have been able to turn the ball over and that has been something of a concern for Colorado as extra possessions will be very costly in this kind of game.

It does feel like it is going to be a close game and so getting the points looks the best way forward in this one. The Cowboys have the scoring power to break down the Colorado Buffaloes Defense, which has been the strength of the team this season, and I think they are worth backing with the points behind them. Getting the full Field Goal worth of points could be critical and I will take the underdog to get the better of Colorado, at least with the points in hand.

Friday 30th December
Georgia Bulldogs vs TCU Horned Frogs Pick: Two underachieving schools meet in the Autozone Liberty Bowl on Friday as they look to put a shine on a 2016 season which has fallen below the expectations. The TCU Horned Frogs were perhaps expected to take a step back having lost some big talent to the NFL, but a 6-6 season is a disappointment and they are under pressure to make sure they don't end with a losing record for the year.

It has been no less disappointing for the Georgia Bulldogs in Kirby Smart's first season as Head Coach as they have dropped down to seven wins for the season. There are some positive signs to take into the 2017 season, but the Bulldogs can at least take some momentum out of the 2016 season with a victory in Memphis.

There have been a couple of weeks since Nick Chubb and Sonny Michel both stated they would return to Georgia for another season in 2017 having both been expected to move onto the NFL Draft. It was a surprise for the Bulldogs nation when you think both have been a little critical of some of the play-calling earlier in the season and Smart's decision to move away from the run.

They won't move away from the run in this one if there is anything smart being game planned into this Bowl Game. Both Chubb and Michel will have noted how the TCU Defensive Line had been worn down later in the regular season and the Bulldogs should be able to run the ball in this one and keep their young Quarter Back in third and manageable spots.

Jacob Eason's teething troubles at Quarter Back affected how well Georgia were able to play in the middle of the season which contributed to their 7-5 record. His Interceptions were a concern, but the Bulldogs being able to run the ball will take some of the pressure off Eason's shoulders, while the TCU Secondary have not been turning over the ball as much as they would like in recent games.

Turnovers has been a big part of how the Georgia Bulldogs Defensive unit have thrived this season and they will be looking to slow down a TCU Offense who had just begun to struggle down the stretch with tougher opponents in front of them. The line of scrimmage is going to play a big part in this game as Georgia's Defensive Line have been very strong for much of the season and will feel they can contain Kyle Hicks at least to the point of forcing Kenny Hill to make some big throws from the Quarter Back position.

Hill has been put under some pressure behind his Offensive Line and that has led to too many mistakes from the Quarter Back. That could be an issue in this one with the Bulldogs Secondary thriving on mistakes by the opponent's Quarter Back and I can see extra possessions being a key in this Bowl Game.

The money has come in on the TCU Horned Frogs which has inflated this spread to above a Field Goal in favour of the Big 12 team. However I like the underdog in this one to keep it close by running the ball very well and then creating a couple of turnovers to give them the edge and I will take the points here.

Stanford Cardinal vs North Carolina Tar Heels Pick: The Hyundai Sun Bowl looks like it is going to be a very interesting one between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Stanford Cardinal. Both teams have perhaps fallen slightly short of their goals for the 2016 season but they have had some big wins while the two schools are losing some big talent to the NFL in the coming months prior to the 2017 season.

At least the Tar Heels will be able to call on their projected First Round talent in the Sun Bowl with Mitch Trubisky leading the way at Quarter Back, but Christian McCaffrey has decided he would not take part for the Stanford Cardinal. That has been a controversial decision from the Running Back, but I have to say I can't argue with securing his future instead of playing his last game for his school.

McCaffrey has been banged up at times this season which ended any hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy, but Bryce Love came in and played well in his stead. While there is a drop off at this stage of their careers, Love could be the next big time Running Back coming out of Stanford and I can see him having a very big say in this Bowl Game. The Tar Heels Defensive Line has struggled to stop the run all season and this is going to be a key part of this Game if they are unable to stop Stanford being able to hand the ball off to Love for big gains through this game.

It will be more difficult for Stanford if they are going to rely on Keller Chryst to have to throw the ball from third and long spots, but the young Quarter Back has played well since coming in to replace Ryan Burns. Importantly he has not turned the ball over and this should mean Stanford are able to produce a number of scoring drives in the Sun Bowl.

Running the ball is likely to be the call on most downs for the Stanford Cardinal, but North Carolina have a lot more balance to their Offense which should keep the chains moving. Trubisky is being suggested as the top Quarter Back to be taken off the board in the NFL Draft in April and he has had a strong season for the North Carolina Tar Heels, while he would have looked at the way the Stanford Secondary played at the end of the regular season to suggest he will find holes to throw the ball into.

Trubisky is aided by the fact that Elijah Hood has been able to establish the run and the Stanford Defensive Line is not as strong as previous seasons. Hood should be able to move the chains and at least keep the Offense in third and manageable situations in this Bowl Game which will give the Tar Heels a chance for the upset.

The absence of McCaffrey may not be as big a deal as it seems and I think both teams will have their successes on the Offensive side of the ball. It really may come down to which of the teams win the turnover battle to decide the outcome of this game, but I am leaning towards the Tar Heels with the points with the balance they should have on the Offensive side of the ball.

Stanford do have the momentum with their run at the end of the season, but I think the Tar Heels will load the box and make a couple of stops of their vaunted rushing Offense. That can be a difference maker in a game that could be decided by very little and I will take the points with the Tar Heels.

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Tennessee Volunteers Pick: The Nebraska Cornhuskers were surprising contenders in the Big Ten for a long time in the 2016 season having recovered from a poor 2015. They fell short in the end, but this is a season of improvement compared with the Tennessee Volunteers who were supposed to be playing in the SEC Championship Game and a dark horse to make the National Championship Play Offs.

The Volunteers failed to win the SEC East though even after beating eventual Division winners Florida in what has to be seen as a season of underachievement. It is important for Tennessee to finish the season on a high at the Music City Bowl else we could see Butch Jones going into the off-season on the hot seat.

Tennessee would have been expecting to play in a much bigger Bowl Game than the one they have been given, but this is a game that is set in Tennessee so the fans will be out in large numbers to support their school.

Injuries should be a big factor in this game with the Cornhuskers hurting badly at the moment. It might actually make up for the fact the Volunteers have been worn down Defensively as Nebraska misses both Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp, the starting Quarter Back and leading Receiver on the team. That might mean Nebraska are not able to expose the holes in the Secondary of the Volunteers with Ryker Fyfe taking over at Quarter Back.

Instead the Nebraska Cornhuskers may lean on the running game to keep the chains moving against the Tennessee Defensive Line which gave up 6.6 yards per carry in their last three games. Keeping Fyfe in third and manageable spots will at least give the Quarter Back a chance as he won't be feeling the pressure to make the big plays throughout the game and gives the Cornhuskers an opportunity in this one.

The Cornhuskers may also point to their strong Defensive unit to try and limit what Tennessee are able to do on that side of the ball and keep this one closer than anticipated. Joshua Dobbs is finishing his career at Quarter Back for the Volunteers, but he will have a tough test against this Cornhuskers who can get pressure up front which can force Dobbs to try and make plays under pressure.

The big battle is going to be at the line of scrimmage where Nebraska have been able to slow down the run, but face a Volunteers team who had some huge gains on the ground as they closed out the regular season. Dobbs is a threat to move the chains with his legs and Tennessee have shown they can move the chains on the ground even though Jalen Hurd has decided to move on.

However doing that against the Cornhuskers Defensive Line won't be easy and it will be that line of scrimmage that determines the way this game goes. I do think Tennessee will find a way to establish the run though and that will put pressure on the banged up Offense to try and keep up with a Volunteers team who scored at least 34 points in each of their last four regular season games.

It should be a close game for a while, but ultimately I do think Tennessee will pull away with the motivation of playing in front of a majority crowd that will be rooting for them. It's a big number, but the injuries on the Nebraska Offensive unit may make it impossible for them to stay with the Volunteers and I will back Tennessee to cover.

Saturday 31st December
Washington Huskies vs Alabama Crimson Tide Pick: The Peach Bowl hosts the first of the College Football Play Off Semi Finals on New Year's Eve and it is no surprise that future editions of the Play Offs will not be played on this day. The viewers will be there, but plenty more are going to be outside and enjoying the final day of the year which is obviously going to have an affect on the ratings.

On the field this is an interesting game between the Number 1 and Number 4 Seed as the Washington Huskies try to upset the odds against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The latter are not only a big favourite to win this game, but they are a big favourite to win the entire National Championship again.

The big question mark around the game is whether the Washington Huskies Defensive unit can do enough to keep the Crimson Tide from pulling away. There have been injuries on that side of the ball that haven't really been exposed down the stretch, but most fans would have keyed in on the defeat to the USC Trojans as an example of what Alabama can do against the Huskies.

The Washington Defensive Line did at least contain the damage that USC could do on the ground that day and they will feel they can at least limit the Crimson Tide on the ground in Atlanta. It can be tough against this Alabama Offensive Line which prides itself on wearing down opponents over the course of the four quarters while Jalen Hurts is more than capable of offering a dual threat from the Quarter Back position.

It might be wise to get Hurts to throw the ball around a bit at the beginning of this game to open up the running lanes and there will be a feeling that Alabama will have success doing that. The Washington Huskies have been able to turn the ball over, but Hurts has looked after the football more often than not and the Crimson Tide are not afraid of dialling up surprising plays to keep the Huskies off balance and spark the Offense.

The Alabama Defensive unit are also capable of sparking the Offense by turning the ball over and this is the toughest test Jake Browning and the Washington Huskies will have faced since scoring 13 points in the loss to the USC Trojans. Running the ball is going to be a big problem for the Huskies, which is key to their Offense, and that might make life difficult for Browning as it did when the Huskies struggled against the Trojans.

Browning will have time in the pocket because the Crimson Tide have just struggled for a strong pass rush, but they make up for that with one of the best Secondary units in the College Football ranks. It will be tough for the Quarter Back to make plays against this Crimson Tide defence with consistency and the turnovers could be a problem if Alabama get in front and Washington are forced to sit in obvious passing situations to get back into the game.

This does feel like it will be a close game and so the first reaction would be to think about taking Washington with the points. However I think Alabama are considerably stronger than the Huskies and I expect that to show up over the course of the second half as their superiority begins to show in the trenches.

The Crimson Tide haven't just been winning games, but winning dominantly and I think they will prove too good for the Number 4 Seed with a win by a couple of converted Touchdowns in the first Play Off Semi Final.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs Clemson Tigers Pick: These two schools have both played for the National Championship in recent memory with Ohio State becoming the first team to win the Play Offs. Last season the Clemson Tigers came up short when they won their Semi Final but fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game and both schools will feel they have the experience to use to their advantage in this huge Semi Final at the Fiesta Bowl.

The season prior to the first Play Offs in College Football, Clemson beat Ohio State in a big Bowl Game, but I don't think that has an affect in this Bowl Game.

It is surprising that the Ohio State Buckeyes head into the Semi Final as the favourite when you think they did not win the Big Ten Conference. Even their mere participation in the Play Offs raised some eyebrows, but I do think the Buckeyes are one of the top four teams in the nation and were more deserving than the Penn State Nittany Lions who ended up winning the Big Ten Conference Championship Game.

Part of the reason the Buckeyes are favoured might be the fact that the Clemson Tigers did have some struggles down the stretch. A loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers and then being pushed all the way in the ACC Championship Game against the Virginia Tech Hokies has raised questions, but the Tigers might have been all about the Play Offs and I think we will see the best of Clemson in this Semi Final.

Both teams have prided themselves on the Defensive side of the ball which has helped them to their 11 or more wins this season. It will come down to whether JT Barrett of Deshaun Watson can make the bigger plays from the Quarter Back position as both do go about things a little differently.

Barrett can pass the ball, but he is also a threat to run and the line of scrimmage is going to be so important as the Clemson Tigers try to lock down the Buckeyes running game. The Tigers Defensive Line have been able to get some penetration into the backfield when Barrett drops back to pass and I do think the Tigers will feel they can match up well with the Ohio State Buckeyes on that side of the ball.

While Watson can also run the ball for the Clemson Tigers from the Quarter Back position, he is better known for the ability to throw the ball downfield. Interceptions have been a problem for Watson at times, and he has to be aware of how good the Buckeyes Secondary have been when it comes to turning the ball over.

The Tigers are also expected to have some problems running the ball and this looks to be a game in which the team who can impose their will at the line of scrimmage will win out. It does feel the Ohio State Buckeyes have the edge there and being able to go against the public feeling is a benefit in this one.

I feel Urban Meyer is the better Head Coach and can make the better adjustments in a close game too and I like the Buckeyes to just be a little better running the ball which helps them come through in a close game.

MY PICKS: Miami Hurricanes - 3 Points @ 1.91 Stan James (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys + 3 Points @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs + 3.5 Points @ 1.86 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
North Carolina Tar Heels + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tennessee Volunteers - 7 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
South Alabama Jaguars + 14.5 Points @ 1.83 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Florida State Seminoles + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 13.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

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